Today the cyber world has revolutionized the manner in which business is performed. Almost any contract can be signed online and all issues regarding the contract can be dealt through the internet. Only a very few areas require the presence of the parties and the actual signing of the contract in the physical form (such as certain financial and real estate contracts). The presence of online contracts has also resulted in a lot of issues developing with relation to the terms and conditions of the contract.
In the UK online contracts have changed the manner in which business is conducted. Usually, there is not much difference between the online contracts and the physical contracts. The same requirements are legally binding on both parties. Over the years, the legal systems are beginning to recognize the ability of the internet to help generate business and develop useful agreements between various parties across the world. The legal system is beginning to trust the internet over security and genuineness issues slowly, as compared to earlier.
However, the legal systems are also concerned about the manner in which these security and genuineness characteristics can be breached by several means, and by several groups of people. Let us now look at the characteristics of online contracts (Out Law, 2008). Online Contracts A contract is nothing but a formalisation of an agreement between two or more parties keeping in mind a particular subject to work on. The terms of the contract can be vast or can involve a specific area.
A contract is enforceable by law, and in case of breach of the contract by either of the parties, legal remedies are available. Some of the areas in which contracts can take place between two or more particulars include employment, supply of logistics, provision of medical services, sale or transfer or real estate, settlement of a dispute, tender fulfilment, ownership of the intellectual property, etc. In developed countries, it is seen that contracts are being utilized in vast areas, and the terms of the contracts are more and more advanced compared to the developing nations.
In developing nations, the chances of using oral contracts are higher. Besides, in developing countries, the legal system may not recognise the use of online strategies in developing effective and foolproof contracts (Out Law, 2008, Hoffman, 2008, Larson, 2003). A contract is governed by certain statutory laws and by certain common laws. It has been seen that the common laws governing the contract are greater than the statutory laws, as very often new issues arise and courts develop newer strategies to handle these issues.
Besides, private laws (created by certain agreements made by both the parties) also influence the contracts. Many private laws may bypass the laws laid by the state and by the court (Out Law, 2008, Hoffman, 2008, Larson, 2003). There are certain elements a contract needs to fulfil in order to be legally acceptable. These include:- Invitation to treat and offers The provision of the offer Acceptance of the offer Ensuring that it meets all the statutory requirement and is not banned under certain laws
The three basic steps of the contract include: the invitation to offer, the offer and the acceptance. It is very important to distinguish between these three stages. In an online contract, these three components also need to be kept in mind. An online website needs to be considered like any other offline showroom. An advertisement should be considered as a form of invitation to treat or offers, and not the offer itself. Once the customer submits his or her order or makes his or her intention to buy the product known to the seller, it would be considered as an offer.
The seller is free to accept or reject the offer. However, if the advertisement is presented as an offer (specifically) and not as an advertisement, then the order placed by the consumer would be considered as an acceptance to the offer, and the seller cannot reject the acceptance made by the buyer. It is very important for the seller to state in the terms and conditions that advertisements placed on the website are merely invitation for offer rather than offers (Out Law, 2008, Larson, 2003).
Invitation to treat and offers – The UK legal system gives a great amount of importance to this element in the contract. A display of an object in a store or mall should not be considered an offer to sell, but rather an invitation to treat. If they are considered to be offers, then the seller would compulsorily have to enter a contract with the buyer and should not refuse to sell the product. This invitation to treat comes necessarily before the contractual process. It suggests that one party would like to enter into a contract with another party (Out Law, 2008, Larson, 2003).